GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – The protection of the planet through the development of clean energy will be explored more deeply at North Carolina A&T State University.

The university’s College of Engineering has received a federal grant of $10.35 million to research how to separate hydrogen and oxygen from water to create clean energy, a release from NC A&T announced.

The grant – at least the third major investment for energy and technology received this year by A&T – is part of $420 million the Department of Energy awarded for its Energy Frontier Research Centers, which are created to study future energy development and move toward the goal of having a zero-emission economy by 2050.

Officials celebrate new engineering complex at North Carolina A&T State University
Officials celebrate the new engineering complex at North Carolina A&T State University

A&T’s piece is to open, under the direction of professor Dhananjay Kumar, the Center for Electrochemical Dynamics and Reactions on Surfaces – the acronym is CEDARS – where the hydrogen initiative will play out during this 4-year grant.

And the school is in elite company. There were 43 grants awarded by the DOE, and nine of them went to laboratories, such as the famed Oak Ridge and Los Alamos labs.

A&T is also the only Historically Black College and University, the only college in North Carolina and one of only five in the South – Arkansas, Clemson, Florida and Georgia Tech are the others – on a list that includes MIT, Stanford, Cornell, Columbia, Princeton, Northwestern, Johns Hopkins and many other large and renowned universities.

Dhananjay Kumar (NC A&T)

“This is a crown jewel award from DOE that has never been awarded to an HBCU until now,” Kumar said in the release. “Not only will we be working on clean energy initiatives, we will also be involved in enhancing diversity, inclusion and equity by involving high school, undergraduate and graduate students from historically underserved backgrounds in our research.”

The DOE lists Kumar as “principal investigator,” but he will have a team of researchers that includes Kristen Rhinehardt of the Computational Science and Engineering department; Bishnu Bastakoti of the College of Science and Technology, Chemistry; Shyam Aravamudhan of the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering; and Caroline Booth of the College of Education.

A&T, which was founded in 1891, is renowned for its engineering and STEM programs and typically graduates more engineers than any other HBCU.

The university in April received a $35 million grant from the Engineering North Carolina’s Future program, and the next day President Joe Biden visited the university and toured its engineering research facility.

That was followed by a $23.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, announced in August, to create a clean energy workforce training program called STEPs4GROWTH.

“We are elated to lead this historic and innovative research center to move our country forward in clean energy,” Stephanie Luster-Teasley, the interim dean of the College of Energy, said in the release. “This award, paired with the university’s $23 million Steps4Growth clean energy workforce training award will ensure N.C. A&T’s College of Engineering’s faculty and students demonstrate leadership in contributing to creating a net-zero emissions economy and continues to promote diversity in clean energy fields.”

Connections for Boom?

Overture jet (Courtesy of Boom Supersonic)
Overture jet (Courtesy of Boom Supersonic)

This would appear an important development for the Triad, which has two new clean-energy manufacturing facilities opening in the next three years.

Toyota is building a battery plant for its electronic vehicles at the Greensboro Randolph Megasite, but this could be even more important for Boom Supersonic, which will build at Piedmont Triad International Airport a supersonic commercial jet.

Boom says it welcomes all advancements in renewable fuels are beneficial and expressed happiness about AT&T’s new grant.

Boom’s jet will fly on carbon-neutral – or clean – energy rather than traditional petroleum in an engine being developed by Rolls Royce, and Boom has promised to hire students from North Carolina’s universities in apprentice roles as it develops the Overture, its jet, and plans to have it in the air by 2029.

Experts say that green hydrogen is “an important component in the production of certain sustainable aviation fuels, most notably power-to-liquid fuels which use renewable energy to separate carbon from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and combine that carbon with green hydrogen to produce a drop-in, net zero carbon aviation fuel.”

The DOE’s program

The DOE’s energy research centers will include not only the 28 universities and nine laboratories, but also more than 75 additional partner institutions, the release said. The research will range from the development of solar and nuclear energy technologies to energy storage, carbon capture, novel manufacturing processes, and the more efficient use of critical minerals in energy technologies and manufacturing.

“Spearheaded by world-leading scientists, DOE’s Energy Frontier Research Centers are innovation powerhouses that have unlocked scientific breakthroughs leading to transformative climate solutions like solar windows and carbon capture technology,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said in a release. “This funding will create good-paying jobs and open doors to an array of clean energy technologies across industries that will be crucial to lowering carbon emissions, meeting our climate goals, and creating the clean infrastructure of the future.”